President Bush's nominee as CIA inspector general vowed yesterday to provide "independent and objective oversight" of the agency's operations, even to the extent of investigating the director if that became necessary.
Frederick P. Hitz, a former legislative counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he agreed to become the agency's first statutory inspector general with enthusiasm tempered by "a clear understanding of the heavy seas" that the law creating the post had to sail.
Bush and CIA Director William H. Webster opposed the measure, but Hitz said he was confident they "are now committed to making this arrangement work."
Under the law, enacted by Congress last year, the CIA inspector general can be removed from office only by the president; will have statutory access to CIA employees, contractors and all records relating to CIA programs and activities, and will report only to the CIA director.
The director, in turn, must report to the Justice Department all information, allegations or complaints received from the inspector general relating to federal criminal violations.
Webster can block any inspector general's audit, inspection or investigation if he determines that the inquiry would compromise "vital national security interests," but he would have to inform the House and Senate Intelligence committees of his reasons for doing so within seven days of any such action.
Hitz, whose appointment seems assured after yesterday's confirmation hearing, said the job would work only if he and his staff "understand intelligence operations and procedures" and only if they can win the trust and cooperation of CIA employees.
To do that, he said he is determined "to dispel any perceptions that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed" and to comply with a provision in the new law making it his duty to protect intelligence sources and methods in the preparation and disclosure of his reports.
Webster said last year that fears of such disclosure, especially among foreign intelligence services, were the main reason for his opposing the bill, but if it became law, he said, "we will do our best to make it work."
A District native, Hitz, 50, worked at the State, Defense and Energy departments in the 1970s under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter. He became CIA legislative counsel in 1978 under then-Director Stansfield Turner and later served as deputy chief of clandestine operations for Europe under former director William Casey. He has been managing partner in the Washington law firm of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt since July 1982.
In welcoming Hitz's appointment, Committee Chairman David L. Boren (D-Okla.) said the need for an independent CIA inspector general was shown as far back as the congressional investigations of illegal activities and improprieties in the mid-1970s and more recently in the 1987 congressional report on the Iran-contra affair.
Under the old system, Boren said, the CIA inspector general was a part of the agency's "management team," served at the director's discretion, and had to rely on untrained investigators whose energies were diluted by the fact that "they often had to go back into divisions they were called upon to investigate."
Under committee questioning, Hitz said that he would feel obliged to investigate the CIA director if evidence should warrant it and would do so without informing him if this would compromise the inquiry. He said he was certain the occasion would never arise under Webster.
Meanwhile, the American Medical Association called on President Bush yesterday to fire Health and Human Services Department Inspector General Richard P. Kusserow, charging that Kusserow is harassing doctors and depriving them of procedural rights in an overzealous quest for doctors who bilk Medicare and Medicaid.
Robert M. McAfee, AMA board vice chairman, told reporters, "Mr. Kusserow is widely perceived to have ignored, indeed fought against, principles of fairness, which are routine in the American administrative and judicial system. As a result, many competent and honest physicians have been severely and improperly damaged and many more have been unnecessarily harassed."
He alleged a "bounty" system in which HHS investigators who obtained a large number of sanctions against doctors were rewarded and said it had required court action to get Kusserow to stop using that and other unacceptable procedures.
Kusserow could not be reached for comment yesterday. HHS Secretary Louis W. Sullivan expressed confidence in Kusserow but acknowledged that a remark by Kusserow on ABC's "Prime Time Live" suggesting that one doctor who was disciplined was a drug user was "unfortunate." He said Kusserow has retracted the statement and apologized.
Staff writer Spencer Rich contributed to this report.